According to lifestyle and fashion magazines, 50 is the new 40. We are in better physical shape. We have a healthier lifestyle. We live longer and it is expected that the retirement age will take another upward hike in 2015. But how does the labour market relate to age? What should I be aware of?

 By Ida Bratting Kongsted, CEO AS3 Executive

Not so long ago, one of our candidates was caught out by the age issue during a meeting with a headhunter:

“The headhunter told me that his client had looked at my CV and found that all my competences matched the brief. But then he had looked at my age and opted for a younger candidate. I'm 54.”

This case may seem shocking, but is far from unique. We sometimes hear of similar examples where age is the decisive factor and that the magic age of 50 tends to weigh too heavily on the wrong side of the scales, even when demanding top executive posts have be filled.

This example is of course simplified and impossible to actually prove. But it is worth being aware that age has a role to play and that an age of over 50 on a CV can be understood as being synonymous with expensive salary, inflexibility and with sated ambitions. So what should you do?

 Here are five pieces of advice from AS3 Executive:

1. Do not consider yourself “past it” just because you have heard that nobody is looking to hire someone who is over 50. It is simply not true. You may encounter a situation similar to the one I have outlined above. It may take longer. But the fact is that 68% of the executive candidates we have in outplacement programmes are over 50 years of age, and over 90% of them are back at work within a year.

2. Take a look at yourself in the mirror. Do you look as if you are headed for your pension? You don’t do you? Focus on staying in shape and being presentable, as well as keeping yourself professionally updated on trends and directions in your field and have a hunger for challenge. Use your drive, attitude and demonstrate with your commitment that you are someone who is up to date and who has 15-20 more good years in the job market.

3. Make yourself aware of how your age is an advantage so that any drawbacks are not allowed to dominate. What were you like when you were 20, 30 or 40 years old? Compare that with how you are today; as colleague, executive and sparring partner. You will no doubt be able to find examples to illustrate that you are more mature, better balanced and more knowledgeable, sympathetic and constructive. Your greater experience goes of course without saying. I would also think that the domestic and family situation allows greater travel activity and flexibility in terms of working hours, which today can be rather skewed in a job market where we often need to engage in dialogue with colleagues in other time zones.

4. Go over your CV. If, like me, you do not consider age to be a primary parameter when a vacancy is to be filled, then document in your CV that you thrive on change and adaptation, with a view to countering the prejudices about “getting set in your ways” as you get older. We are all well-aware that the markets in all industries are rapidly changing, and that adaptability has become a competence. When we have to map out our career progression, there are almost always examples where we have been part of large-scale change processes, so be sure to highlight this.

Your age does not need to be kept secret. Rather, your experience and competences are of greatest relevance and that should therefore be highlighted through proven results.

5. Do not hang your hopes on a boardroom career. I sometimes encounter candidates who have hit 50 and have decided that now is the time for a career in the boardroom. Here, you should be aware that:

  • Board work is something you must qualify for and it may be appropriate to begin with one or two positions during the course of your career.
  • The path to the boardroom is through executive positions.
  • You need to be on a huge number of boards if you are going to make a living doing it!!!

I hope that you and others are able to benefit from AS3 Executive's viewpoints. All ages have their advantages. The market is desperate for qualified labour at the moment and there is every reason to show headhunters and companies that an age of 50 of more is more of an advantage than a disadvantage.